After several years of increasing illness, my husband Sandy qualified for the liver transplant list in 2008. There is a long list in Massachusetts and, since he was still functioning fairly well, we chose not to travel to another state with a shorter wait time. Finally, after three years, he was now near the top of the list so we had been counting on his getting a new liver very soon. However, the small tumors on his liver were growing and blood tests had revealed that the cancer had spread beyond the liver. Since people who have transplants are put on immune suppressant drugs, and transplant recipients need strong immune systems, Sandy could no longer expect to survive a transplant. In fact, the doctor, in the kindest way possible, told him that he likely had six to nine months to live.
I was brave only until we left the doctor’s office. Then I went to the nearest rest room and released muffled, broken-hearted sobs and wondered how I was going to be strong for Sandy and our family in the coming months. I breathed deeply and joined Sandy and we walked to the car in silence. It was a very quiet ride home, both of us lost in our thoughts of how we could tell the kids this unexpected and devastating news.
To my surprise, Sandy was hungry and wanted some chicken noodle soup, a favorite comfort food for him, so we went to Panera’s near home. Coincidentally (or maybe it was synchronicity), my son, Christopher and his family were just finishing dinner nearby and saw our car. He texted to invite us to join them for ice cream. We agreed thinking that talking in person was preferable to sharing such news on the phone.
My son knew by looking at us that something was wrong so he gave the boys some money and they went off happily to Game Stop, unaware of the coming news. Haltingly, through tears, we told my son and daughter-in-law. After asking questions and listening to what the doctor said, my son looked at us and said kindly “We will do the best we can to make sure that this journey has more laughter than tears”.
That thought became our mantra for the coming months and made the journey more bearable. There were many tears but there were also times when we could share joy and laughter in spite of the sadness surrounding us. Looking back at those three months (the doctor’s estimate unfortunately was overly optimistic), I am so grateful my son had given us the words that helped us move through this challenging time.